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How do you think the West Contra Costa district could be more transparent?

A few years ago, many residents and employees in the Mt. Diablo school district complained about a lack of transparency and accountability in decision-making. Today, things have improved under new leadership.

For example, contracts are listed separately on agendas and the documents are attached to agenda packets, so the public can see what is being decided. When the board recently extended Superintendent Nellie Meyer’s contract, it was listed on the public agenda with the contract attached.

Now, the Mt. Diablo district looks like a poster child for transparency compared to the West Contra Costa district. A case in point was the chaotic West Contra Costa board meeting Wednesday, where the board agreed to extend Superintendent Bruce Harter’s contract under the vague heading of “performance evaluation” on a closed session agenda (Item 8). The contract was not attached and there was no mention that the “one year extension” would actually last through June 30, 2018.

District residents say this is business as usual in West Contra Costa, where the public is left in the dark, while the board wonders why trust is deteriorating.

“Still, no one knows what the arrangement is with the superintendent at all,” said resident Charley Cowens. “That was not real sufficient notice of what’s going on. They should have a hearing. They should allow the public to have a meaningful opportunity to give them feedback. Who wouldn’t be interested in getting feedback on their job from the people they’re trying to serve?”

Cowens suggests that the district make the superintendent’s goals and objectives public so that everyone knows what he’s striving to achieve. This is an idea that has already been implemented in the Mt. Diablo district.

Resident Linda Ruiz-Lozito said the West Contra Costa district should look for new leadership.

“WCCUSD is one of the lowest performing districts in California,” she said. “This school board has voted to keep the same (administrative) leadership in place for four more years, right before new school board members come on the board.”

Resident Scottie Smith said the board is not good at making things clear to the public.

“In all my years of being in this district,” she said, “I have found this board to be the worst in terms of clarity.”

Smith and several other district residents were incensed when the district placed four controversial contracts for nearly $500,000 related to a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation on the “consent” portion of the agenda (Item C. 4), which is normally reserved for routine items that don’t need to be discussed.

“It should have never been on the consent calendar from the beginning,” Smith said. “The way they did that was underhanded and very deceptive.”

But both Board President Charles Ramsey and Trustee Madeline Kronenberg defended the agenda placement, saying this is the way the board always handles contracts. When I told Kronenberg about the way Mt. Diablo lists contracts separately and attaches them to agendas, she said she would suggest this idea at her board’s January retreat.

“That’s the kind of practical suggestion that I think is actually useful to us,” she said. “I get told a lot that we need to be more transparent. I have no problem supporting any suggestion.”

Hercules City Councilman Dan Romero said the West Contra Costa school board needs to change the way it does things if it wants to regain public trust. For example, Romero said he believes board members who recuse themselves must step out of the room before discussion begins, instead of participating as Ramsey did.

Romero also said he was surprised that neither the district’s attorney nor Harter stepped in to correct Ramsey when he made a parliamentary mistake by trying to amend a motion made by Trustee Todd Groves related to Kronenberg’s legal representation, before seeking a second. Instead, Sheri Gamba, associate superintendent for business services, told Ramsey there was already a motion on the floor.

“I’m glad somebody knew the rules,” Romero said.

How do you think the board could be more transparent?

Posted on Friday, November 14th, 2014
Under: Education, West Contra Costa school district | 54 Comments »

Mounting legal fees for SEC investigation rile some WCCUSD residents

As word of four contracts to be considered by the West Contra Costa school board tonight related to the SEC investigation into the district’s $1.6 billion bond program has spread, some residents are questioning why taxpayers should foot the bill for responses to subpoenas for Board President Charles Ramsey and Trustee Madeline Kronenberg.

In addition, I question why the district placed these contracts on its “consent calendar,” which is supposed to be used only for “routine” items with no discussion. I also question why the contracts themselves are not attached to the agenda packet.

When I spoke to Ramsey yesterday afternoon about these issues, I started off the conversation by saying there were some “controversial” things on the agenda (referring to these contracts).

“That’s not controversial,” Ramsey said. “I’ve not gotten one phone call. I haven’t gotten one email, so it’s not controversial.”

When I told him that I had received phone calls and e-mails about this, he responded: “Why would people call the media and not call me?”

Ramsey said that contracts have always been placed on the consent calendar, so he didn’t see any problem with that. Debbie Haynie, the superintendent’s executive secretary, said it’s not the district’s practice to actually attach the contracts to the agenda packets.

Even more surprising, the district doesn’t even list the contracts on the agenda. It merely lists the heading “contracts,” and states: “Permission is requested of the Board of Education to approve contracts as detailed, dated Nov. 12, 2014.”

The amounts are also not listed. Instead, under “Fiscal Impacts,” the agenda states: “As noted per contracts summary.”

This forces the public to then go online and scroll through the entire agenda packet to find a summary of contracts to be approved. The summary includes short descriptions and dollar amounts, but leaves out other important details. For example, it was unclear whether the dollar amounts listed for contract increases referred to new money or to the new total amount. It is also unclear whether Madeline Kronenberg received an individual subpoena or whether her representation is related to the district’s subpoena. Further, it is not clear why Associate Superintendent Sheri Gamba was being deposed or when the deposition was scheduled.

Trustee Todd Groves told me yesterday that he thought the additional amounts listed were cumulative, not incremental. But I found out today from the district’s Business Services Department that was not true. In fact, the amounts are IN ADDITION to the current contracts. It’s surprising that Groves didn’t know this.

The district’s failure to transparently reveal such information has prompted resident Charles Reichmann and others to ask the board to delay its vote on these contracts. With Reichmann’s permission, I am posting his “Open Letter on Ramsey, Kronenberg Legal Fees” below, which he sent to Trustee Todd Groves, along with copies to Trustees Randall Enos and Elaine Merriweather:

“Dear Todd,

I was distressed to read in the paper that the WCCUSD Board will soon vote on whether to allocate an additional $200k to pay Charles Ramsey’s brother’s law firm in connection with the SEC investigation. And another $100k in defense of the person you’ve described as your “close ally” on the Board, Madeline Kronenberg.

I hereby request that the Board delay its scheduled vote on this matter for one month to allow more opportunity for public discussion.

You have been quoted in the paper a couple of times saying that it is only right that the WCCUSD pay Charles Ramsey’s legal fees because the investigation arises out of work he did while on the Board. This proposition is not at all self-evident to your constituents. First, I don’t understand why this isn’t exactly the kind of matter that your insurer would pay for pursuant to the board’s D&O policy. Even if you ignore the rest of this email, can you please explain why the District’s insurer isn’t obligated to provide a defense? Second, it is unseemly that Charles Ramsey is taking this final opportunity to enrich one of his close associates, in this case his brother. (Ismail Ramsey and his firm are highly regarded and certainly are competent to handle investigations of this kind. That is not at issue.) Third, Ismail Ramsey’s firm has made it clear that their duties run entirely to Charles and not to the District so any argument that benefits from this engagement inure to the good of District taxpayers is unavailing. Charles Ramsey and his attorneys are pursuing one thing and one thing alone – the exoneration of Charles Ramsey. They are not at all concerned with the best interests of the WCCUSD, however they may understand them.

Finally, it is noteworthy that you seem entirely convinced that the SEC investigation will uncover no wrongdoing on the part of Ramsey or any others associated with the bond program. You have been a trustee for only a couple of years and recently wrote that you are still getting up to speed on the bond program, so you may lack a sound basis for having reached such a conclusion. The fact that the SEC opened an investigation is a pretty extraordinary thing in itself, and the fact that the Board apparently now feels compelled to spend in excess of $500k of District funds in response to what you call a “pretty deep examination” may end up meaning that we all will be unpleasantly surprised about what the investigation uncovers. As a District taxpayer I certainly do not want to be paying the attorneys’ fees of WCCUSD personnel whom the government elects to prosecute for malfeasance. Do you feel the same way, or will you continue to assert that since the conduct happened while they were in the District’s employ, it is only proper that we continue to pay for a first-class defense?

Very truly yours,

Charles Reichmann
Kensington”

I have also received the following comment from district resident Anton Jungherr:

“Note that all of the contracts are illegal as they all started before Board approval.

Kronenberg contract started October 1, 2014, prior to the election!

Why does Kronenberg need a criminal defense attorney to respond to records request?”

However, the original contracts for Ramsey and F1 Discovery were previously approved.

Do you think the board should delay its vote on the contracts for one month?

Posted on Wednesday, November 12th, 2014
Under: Education, West Contra Costa school district | 16 Comments »

MDUSD board election winners look toward the future

Updated results from the Contra Costa County elections office released Friday, which included all timely vote by mail ballots, showed no change in the outcome of the Mt. Diablo school board race between six candidates for three seats. Incumbent Cheryl Hansen finished first with 23.4 percent of votes, followed by Bay Point parent Debra Mason with 19.6 percent and incumbent Linda Mayo with 19.1 percent.

However, the gap between fourth-place finisher Michael Langley and third-place finisher Linda Mayo dropped from 477 to 417 votes, with Langley garnering 18.7 percent. followed by Herbert Lee with 9.8 percent, James Ryan with 8.8 percent and write-ins getting nearly 0.5 percent.

Another 13,000 provisional ballots and 10,000 “exceptions” that could not be counted by machine are still to be counted. Officials expect to begin counting the outstanding ballots Monday and to release another update Nov. 14, with a final update Nov. 21. The certification deadline is Dec. 2.

After the initial results were released Tuesday, the three Mt. Diablo school district winners responded via e-mail to requests for comments.

Hansen said she was happy to receive a vote of confidence from the community and was glad for the opportunity to continue working toward changes, after accomplishing some goals during her first term. Foremost among those was the ouster of former Superintendent Steven Lawrence last year, who was replaced by current Superintendent Nellie Meyer.

“From my perspective, while positive progress has been made in the past year or two, there’s still more work to be done to correct the 2010-12 board majority and former superintendent’s poor judgment and ill-advised decision making,” said Hansen, who was elected to her first term in 2010.

The 2010-12 board majority included Mayo and former Trustees Gary Eberhart and Sherry Whitmarsh. Eberhart stepped down two years ago and Whitmarsh was unsuccessful in her 2012 re-election attempt. The pair was replaced by Trustee Brian Lawrence and Board President Barbara Oaks.

Hansen said she wants to continue to restore previously cut programs, enhance employee benefits, and build school support and community relationships.

“Also,” she said, “I’d still like to see all board members embrace the concept of public service and voluntarily forgo health benefits at the taxpayers’ expense.”

Oaks and Hansen tried to push through a board bylaw amendment in September that would have required board members to pay the full cost of their medical, dental and vision coverage. But the proposal was defeated by Mayo, Brian Lawrence and Trustee Lynne Dennler. Dennler did not seek re-election this year.

This newspaper’s public employees’ salary and benefits database shows Hansen and Oaks received no health benefits as board members in 2013. Brian Lawrence received $1,458 in district-paid benefits, Dennler received $12,781 and Mayo received $14,371 for herself and her husband. Mayo said during the campaign that it’s important for the district to provide benefits to trustees so that those who may not be able to afford them would not be discouraged from serving.

Regarding the new makeup of the board, Hansen said she is excited that Mason was elected.
“She is a dedicated, experienced educator and community member who will be another important voice of common sense on the board,” Hansen said.

Mason said some voters may have chosen her over Mayo because of her fresh outlook.

“Linda has been on the board for 17 years,” Mason said, “so people may feel she has already made her contribution to the leadership of the district.”

Mayo said she was pleased that voters weighed in on the board election during a low turnout year.

“Public education should be the important first consideration for our youth,” she said. “I look forward to working with Debra Mason, Cheryl Hansen, Brian Lawrence, Barbara Oaks and Dr. Nellie Meyer during the next four years. Together, with our parents, staff and community, we have great work to accomplish.”

How do you think the loss of Dennler and the addition of Mason will affect the board?

Posted on Friday, November 7th, 2014
Under: Education, Election, Mt. Diablo school district | 129 Comments »

WCCUSD Trustee Elaine Merriweather comments on her loss in Tuesday’s election

I received the following statement to the public from West Contra Costa school board Trustee Elaine Merriweather, in response to her unsuccessful re-election attempt Tuesday. I am posting the statement below, since I did not receive it in time for inclusion in my post-election story.

Merriweather was one of two incumbents seeking re-election during a race between 10 candidates for three seats. Board President Charles Ramsey is stepping down, after an unsuccessful run for Richmond City Council.

According to unofficial results from the County Elections office (with thousands of mail in and provisional ballots still to be counted), Merriweather finished sixth, with 9 percent of votes. Elizabeth Block finished first with 19.5 percent, followed by incumbent Madeline Kronenberg with 15.4 percent and Valerie Cuevas with 13.2 percent, Mister Phillips with 11.8 percent and Raquel Donoso with 9.6 percent. The top three finishers are the unofficial winners of the election until all votes are counted. Mister Phillips, who received 944 votes fewer than Cuevas, could have a chance to overtake her if there are enough mail in and provisional ballots outstanding that are cast for him.

Merriweather finished ahead of Peter Nicholas Chau, who received 7.9 percent of votes, Chester Stevens with 4.6 percent, Ayana Kirkland Young with 4.4 percent, Otheree Christian with 4 percent and write-in candidates, who received 0.4 percent. So far, 64,305 votes have been counted in the race.

Here is Merriweather’s statement:

“I wish I had better news for you. Unfortunately, our campaign fell short of our goal Tuesday night. Coming into this election, I knew that it would be an uphill battle because of the opposition from nine other candidates but I am so proud of the hard work and dedication our team put into this race.

To my supporters: I don’t know where to begin to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation for all the support, well wishes, financial contributions and love that you’ve given me these last four years. The phone banking, precinct walking and helping to raise fund kept us in the race. Your encouragement meant so much to me in this election. You need to know that your support gave me the strength and courage to push forward our platform.

To my team: Everything in our campaign was built from the ground up, grassroots effort. As a candidate and a board member, I woke up every day determined to work harder for children of this district. I wanted to vindicate all the support and dedication that you had invested in me. To my treasurer who helped fundraise and keep the finances in order. To my campaign manager who worked tirelessly, without preservation, I thank you both from the bottom of my heart and I could not have had better leaders advising me.

This election season is a reminder that there is a lot of work that needs to be done to move our district forward. Despite these challenges, I am as optimistic as ever. We made tremendous strides in the community and we have made progress in our district. I will continue to work and advocate for students at the national and state level. My commitment to quality education has only grown stronger because I was given the opportunity to serve in West Contra Costa Unified School District.

With humility and thankfulness,

Hon. Elaine Merriweather
Board of Education Trustee
West Contra Costa Unified School District”

What impact do you think the loss of Merriweather on the board will have on the district?

Posted on Thursday, November 6th, 2014
Under: Education, Election, Walnut Creek School District | No Comments »

Who will undecideds choose in state Superintendent of Public Instruction race: Torlakson or Tuck?

Tom Torlakson (left, AP) and Marshall Tuck (right, handout photo) are vying for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Tom Torlakson (left, AP) and Marshall Tuck (right, handout photo) are vying for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

A Field Poll released Thursday showed the race for the state’s top schools leader is still off the radar for a lot of voters, with incumbent Tom Torlakson tied with challenger Marshall Tuck, both with 28 percent of likely voters supporting them. At this late date, 44 percent of voters were still undecided, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,536 registered voters in California from Oct. 15-28, including 941 considered likely to vote Tuesday.

The poll noted key differences among subgroups of voters, according to geography, race and ethnicity, political ideology, and union households. Northern California voters favored Torlakson by 9 points, while Bay Area voters supported him by a 14 point margin. Tuck, on the other hand, had a 6-point lead over Torlakson in Southern California, where he worked overseeing some charter and low-performing schools in the Los Angeles area before running for office.

White non-Hispanic voters, who make up about 70 percent of those likely to go to the polls, favored Torlakson by 7 points, the poll found. Tuck had much stronger support among Latino and African-American voters, as well as a slight lead among Asian-Americans.

- Thirty-two percent of white non-Hispanic likely voters supported Torlakson, compared to 25 percent for Tuck and 43 percent undecided;

- Twenty percent of Latino likely voters supported Torlakson, compared to 33 percent for Tuck and 47 percent undecided;

- Eleven percent of African-American likely voters favored Torlakson, compared to 49 percent for Tuck and 40 percent undecided;

Twenty-one percent of likely Asian-Americans supported Torlakson, compared to 38 percent for Tuck and 51 percent undecided.

Ideologically, 40 percent of strongly liberal voters favored Torlakson, compared to 18 percent for Tuck and 42 percent undecided. On the other hand, only 26 percent of strongly conservative voters favored Torlakson, compared to 36 percent for Tuck and 40 percent undecided.

In union households, 31 percent favored Torlakson, 23 percent supported Tuck and 46 percent were undecided. Nonunion households gave Tuck the lead, with 27 percent supporting Torlakson compared to 29 percent for Tuck and 44 percent undecided.

During phone interviews, both men seized on the large numbers of undecided voters, saying they believed they would choose them as they learn more about the race. Both also said they were pleasantly surprised that their opponent had not gained ground since the last field poll, especially after millions of dollars have been spent on ads in the race.

“Ten million dollars from corporate billionaires hasn’t convinced voters to put a Wall Street banker in charge of our schools,” Torlakson said, referring to money spent on behalf of Tuck’s campaign. “The undecideds are a large group here. When people find out I’m the endorsed Democrat and that mayors and superintendents across the state support me, as well as the teachers, the undecideds, I believe, will break our way.”

But Tuck, who worked as an investment banker for two years in his early 20s before pursuing a career in school leadership, said he believes his message of reform will resonate with undecided voters as they learn more about him.

“The bottom line is we’re going against an incumbent and the status quo and we’re on a real change agenda,” he said. “Undecideds are likely to support our campaign because most people want major change in schools.”

Torlakson said he is not a status quo candidate — in fact, he said he helped work toward the new funding formula that gives more money to schools with the neediest students, has led the implementation of new Common Core standards and stood up to the U.S. Department of Education last year to ditch the old fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests and instead pilot new tests to better assess student learning.

Tuck wants to weaken tenure laws to make it easier to oust ineffective teachers and to retain good teachers with little seniority. He also wants to give more flexibility to schools.

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education at UC Berkeley, said Torlakson may have trouble attracting voters’ attention because Gov. Jerry Brown and Michael Kirst, president of the state Board of Education, are also widely recognized as education leaders in the state.

Who do you support and why?

Posted on Monday, November 3rd, 2014
Under: Education, Election | 8 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school board to vote on boosting principals’ salaries, discuss a “graduate profile” and vote on cell towers at MDHS and Pleasant Hill MS

The Mt. Diablo school board will meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the district office at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord. Here is the agenda, which includes a proposal to fast-track pay increases for principals, a “graduate profile” aimed at describing traits and skills of a district grad, and a plan to place Verizon Wireless cell towers at Mt. Diablo HS and Pleasant Hill MS in exchange for money:

“1.0 Call to Order
1.1 President Will Call the Meeting to Order at 6:00 p.m. Info
2.0 Public Comment
2.1 The public may address the Board concerning items that are scheduled for discussion during Closed Session only. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers or the three minute limit may be shortened. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info
3.0 Announcements

3.1 In Closed Session, the Board will consider the items listed on the Closed Session Agenda. Info
4.0 Closed Session Agenda
4.1 (Item #1) Readmission of Student #10-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.2 (Item #2) Readmission of Student #19-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.3 (Item #3) Readmission of Student #C-14 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.4 (Item #4) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
4.5 (Item #5) Existing Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Section 54956.9 (d)(1) regarding the matter of Bay Area News Group (BANG) v. MDUSD, Case No. MSC N13-1551 Info/Action
4.6 (Item #6) Discipline, Dismissal or Release of Public Employee (Gov. Code Sec. 54957(b)(1) Info/Action
4.7 (Item #7) Negotiations – The Board may discuss negotiations or provide direction to its representatives regarding represented employees, pursuant to EERA (Govt. Code Section 3549.1) Agency negotiators: Larry Schoenke and Deborah Cooksey, Agencies: MDEA, CSEA, Teamsters M&O, Local One CST, MDSPA, and Supervisory. Info/Action
5.0 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m.
5.1 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m. Action

6.0 Reconvene Open Session
6.1 Reconvene to Open Session at 7:30 p.m. Info

7.0 Preliminary Business
7.1 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call Info

8.0 Report Out Action Taken in Closed Session
8.1 (Item #1) Readmission of Student #10-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.2 (Item #2) Readmission of Student #19-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.3 (Item #3) Readmission of Student #C-14 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.4 (Item #4) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
8.5 (Item #5) Existing Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Section 54956.9 (d)(1) regarding the matter of Bay Area News Group (BANG) v. MDUSD, Case No. MSC N13-1551 Info/Action
8.6 (Item #6) Discipline, Dismissal or Release of Public Employee (Gov. Code Sec. 54957(b)(1) Info/Action
8.7 (Item #7) Negotiations – The Board may discuss negotiations or provide direction to its representatives regarding represented employees, pursuant to EERA (Govt. Code Section 3549.1) Agency negotiators: Larry Schoenke and Deborah Cooksey, Agencies: MDEA, CSEA, Teamsters M&O, Local One CST, MDSPA, and Supervisory. Info/Action

9.0 Public Employee Appointment
9.1 ITEM PULLED BY STAFF: Appointment of Administrator, Necessary Small High School/Vice Principal – Prospect Action

9.2 Appointment of Vice Principal, High School – Northgate High School Action

10.0 Board Member Reports
10.1 Board Member Reports Info

11.0 Superintendent’s Report
11.1 Superintendent’s Report Info

12.0 Consent Agenda Action
12.1 (Item #1) Items listed under Consent Agenda are considered routine and will be approved/adopted by a single motion. There will be no separate discussion of these items; however, any item may be removed from the consent agenda upon the request of any member of the Board and acted upon separately. Action
12.2 (Item #2) Recommended Action for Certificated Personnel Action
12.3 (Item #3) Request to Increase Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
12.4 (Item #4) Recommended Action for Classified Personnel Action
12.5 (Item #5) Classified Personnel: Request to Increase/Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014/15 School Year. Action
12.6 (Item #6) Budget Transfer and/or Budget Increases/Decreases for July through September 2014. Action
12.7 (Item #7 Adjustments to Contract Amount between Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD) and Medical Billing Technologies, Inc. (MBT) for the 2014/15 School Year Action
12.8 (Item #8) Independent Contracts for the Event Group, Inc. and College Park High School. Action
12.9 (Item #9) Northgate Independent Contracts with Events To The T for Junior Prom and Senior Ball Action
12.10 (Item #10) Approve the contract between Exploring New Horizons and Valle Verde Elementary Action
12.11 (Item #11) Northgate High School’s Women’s Varsity Basketball Trip to Reno, Nevada Action
12.12 (Item #12) Williams Quarterly Summary Report Action
12.13 (Item #13) Approve the Purchase of Vehicles for Maintenance and Operations Action
12.14 (Item #14) Award of Bid #1685 for Custodial Supplies Action
12.15 (Item #15) Exercise extension of RFP #1665: Swimming Pool Maintenance Service Action
12.16 (Item #16) Approve Open Order for Emergency Pool Repairs. Action
12.17 (Item #17) Approve Lease/Leaseback #1663 Final Change Order #1663-001 (DEDUCTIVE)to Taber Construction, Inc. for Portable Replacement 2014 at Eagle Peak MS, Gregory Gardens ES, Silverwood ES and Woodside ES Action
12.18 (Item #18) Notice of Completion for Lease/Leaseback #1663: Portable Classroom Replacement 2014 Action
12.19 (Item #19) Lease/Leaseback #1659 Final Change Order #1659-001 (DEDUCTIVE)to Taber Construction, Inc. for HVAC Modernization at El Dorado Middle School, Highlands Elementary School, Pine Hollow Middle School, Wren Avenue Elementary School, Pleasant Hill Elementary School, Sequoia Middle School, Valhalla Elementary School and Walnut Acres Elementary School Action
12.20 (Item #20) Notice of Completion for Lease/Leaseback #1659: HVAC Modernization at Various Schools Action
12.21 (Item #21) Award Service Contract for Architectural Services to Design the PE Building Improvements at Clayton Valley Charter High School Action
12.22 (Item #22) Award Project Inspector Contract for Modular Gymnasium Project # 1631 at Concord High School. Action
12.23 (Item #23) Resolution No. 14/15-21 Compensation for Board Members Action
12.24 (Item #24) Approval of Variable Term Waiver Request Action
12.25 (Item #25) Approval of Provisional Internship Permit (PIP) Request Action
12.26 (Item #26) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on April 11, 2013 Action
12.27 (Item #27) Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on April 8, 2013 Action
12.28 (Item #28) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on April 3, 2013 Action
12.29 (Item #29) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on March 28, 2013 Action
12.30 (Item #30) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on March 27, 2013 Action
12.31 (Item #31) Ygnacio Valley High School’s trip to Southern California on October 29 – November 1, 2014 Action
13.0 Consent Items Pulled for Discussion

14.0 Communications
14.1 District Organizations – At regular Board meetings, a single spokesperson of each recognized district organization may make a brief presentation following the Consent Agenda. Items are limited to those which are informational. Info

15.0 Public Comment
15.1 The public may address the Board regarding any item within the jurisdiction of the Board of Education of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District that is not on this agenda. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers, or the three minute limit may be shortened. If there are multiple speakers on any one subject, the public comment period may be moved to the end of the meeting. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info

16.0 Business/Action Item

16.1 Create New Job Description for Workers’ Compensation Specialist Info/Action

16.2 Creation of Intermediate Typist Clerk position for Meadow Homes Elementary, Mt. Diablo Elementary, Hidden Valley Elementary and College Park High School Action

16.3 Public Hearing Resolution 14/15-20 Education Protection Account. Action

16.4 Resolution 14/15-20 Education Protection Account 2014-15. Action

16.5 Principal Salary Schedule Action

16.6 Approve Graduate Profile for Mt. Diablo Unified School District Info

16.7 Procurement of New Firewall/Security/Bandwidth Management Appliance Action

16.8 Award Lease/Leaseback contract #1631 to Meehleis Modular Buildings, Inc. for construction of the Modular Gymnasium Building project at Concord High School for a Guaranteed Maximum Cost of $3,698,805.00 Action

16.9 Approve Cellular Tower Agreement with Verizon Wireless and Mt. Diablo Unified School for placement at Mt. Diablo High School and Pleasant Hill Middle School. (Oak Park) Action

16.10 Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on October 15, 2014 Action

16.11 Meeting Extension Action

16.12 Execution of Documents Info

17.0 Future Agenda Items
17.1 Future Agenda Items Info

18.0 Closed Session
18.1 Items not completed during the first Closed Session will be carried over to this Closed Session. Action

19.0 Reconvene Open Session
19.1 Reconvene Open Session and Report Out Info

20.0 Adjournment
20.1 Adjourn Meeting Action”

Do you agree with the plan to make it easier for principals to reach the top of the pay scale more quickly?

Posted on Thursday, October 30th, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 63 Comments »

Influx of money helps support school counseling services provided by JFK University

Pleasant Hill City Councilman and JFK University alum Dr. Michael Harris has given his alma mater a $30,000 matching grant to help expand counseling services provided by the university’s masters and doctoral students in city schools by covering the cost of counselors, according to a JFK news release.

“I’ve always believed in giving back to the people and places that have given so much to me,” Harris said in a prepared statement.

The grant is also reminiscent of one of Harris’ favorite quotes: “We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.”

A doctor of optometry, Harris earned his JD at JFK University and is a legal consultant on healthcare issues, as well as a professor of Optometry at UC Berkeley.

In addition, the University recently received a federal grant of more than $450,000 to train mental health professionals from diverse cultures and backgrounds in order to increase mental health services and protect the health of children and communities.

JFK University and the Mt. Diablo school district, or MDUSD, began working together more than a decade ago, after school counseling positions were eliminated in 1989 due to budget cuts.

“Our partnership with MDUSD is truly a win-win,” said Gail Kinsley-Dame, Executive Director of the Community Counseling Center, in a news release. “MDUSD students get the help and support they need and JFK graduate students fulfill the mission and core values of the University while also earning the hours of supervised counseling required to complete their degree and obtain licensing.”

Mt. Diablo students and their families can also utilize the JFK University Community Counseling Center in Concord if they need support over the summer or would like family counseling. Students can be referred to the program by teachers or administrators, but need parent permission to participate in counseling.

“The program has been successful in helping students improve their self-esteem, classroom behavior, and school attendance,” said James Wogan, the district’s administrator of School Linked Services. “The strengths-based approach encourages children and helps them to feel connected to school.”

Students served by the program include some who may be dealing with issues such as homelessness and other stressful situations, or those who would like help making friends. The district is adding back counseling positions this school year, but JFK University students are continuing to help meet the strong demand for counseling services.

Celine DeFranco, a master’s student in counseling psychology at JFK University, served as a counselor at several district high schools through the partnership.

“The teen years are an important developmental time,” she said, in a prepared statement. “My work is about helping them build a solid foundation, fostering a relationship they can take outside to someone else. High school students want a safe place where someone will listen to them without judging them. I’m honored to work with them.”

More information about JFK University’s masters and doctoral programs in counseling and psychology is available at http://www.jfku.edu. Additional details about the Mt. Diablo school district’s School Linked Services is at http://demo.mdusd.org/cms/page_view?d=x&piid=&vpid=1400652641757

Do you think the Mt. Diablo school district should devote more of its budget to counselors?

Posted on Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
Under: Education, JFK University, Mt. Diablo school district | 1 Comment »

West Contra Costa school board candidates discuss superintendent’s job performance

During a recent editorial board forum for this newspaper, nine candidates vying for three open seats on the West Contra Costa school board discussed a variety of issues, including Superintendent Bruce Harter’s job performance.

The candidates included incumbent Madeline Kronenberg and challengers Liz Block, Peter Chau, Otheree Christian, Val Cuevas, Raquel Donoso, Mister Phillips, Chester Stevens and Ayana Kirkland Young. Incumbent Elaine Merriweather did not participate.

The superintendent is hired by the board and can be fired by the board. Kronenberg and Christian said they supported Harter. Phillips, Stevens and Young gave mixed reviews. Chau said he would need more information before he could make a decision about whether or not to retain Harter. But Block, Cuevas and Donoso adamantly criticized the superintendent and the current board for failing to act quickly enough to solve district problems, including poor academic achievement.

Kronenberg said Harter is well-connected to teachers, supported by staff and spends up to two days a week visiting classrooms.

“I would keep Bruce Harter,” she said.

Christian said he supports the superintendent, but it’s the responsibility of the trustees to make sure that all students are getting a good education.

“If the board is not doing that,” he said, “then they’re failing.”

Phillips said if Harter’s not doing what he’s supposed to, it’s the board’s fault. However, he pointed out that low academic achievement in the district cuts across all ethnic backgrounds and said all students are being underserved.

“In general, I support Dr. Harter,” Phillips said. “If there are specific issues, then that’s a different discussion.”

Stevens said Harter could do a better job of managing his staff. He said he has seen the American and California flags flying upside down, but that no one at the district seemed to care. As a substitute teacher, Stevens said he has had concerns involving due process that he didn’t want to detail.

“I would give him a C — not a failure, but I think he can do a lot more — and I think he has the wherewithal to do a lot more,” Stevens said. “I think something has to be shaken up there and I think he can address some things that I’ve told him about that he has not yet addressed.”

Young said Harter is personable, attends district events and listens to parents’ concerns. But she criticized him for blaming district problems on the budget, and said he appears to prioritize building new schools over improving education. She also said he needs to make sure every classroom has a teacher at the beginning of the year.

“Dr. Harter is really nice,” she said. “But he has to get a little tougher if he wants to make sure that this district goes in the way it’s supposed to.”

Chau said he would want to evaluate Harter before deciding whether he’s a good fit for the district. Chau wants to find out if Harter would support his idea of creating a student loan repayment program as an incentive to recruit and retain high quality teachers.

“I’m looking for solutions to some of the problems that our school district has,” Chau said.

Block said Harter needs to be held accountable for poor academic performance and lack of communication, innovation and leadership.

“I would make growth in student learning part of the superintendent’s evaluation and he would not be getting a good evaluation,” she said. “He would be not be working for the district anymore.”

Cuevas said Harter doesn’t appear to understand how to spur teaching and learning that will help the district’s diverse students succeed. She also said he should make sure there is a teacher in every classroom when school starts.

“We need a leader that’s not going to be top down and over-burdensome” and will work to build collaboration among staff to meet students’ needs, she said.

Donoso said district leaders have no sense of urgency to improve abysmally low academic achievement in math, or to help English learners become more fluent, or to solve truancy problems, especially among African-American students. She said there is a structural problem in the district.

“It is horrendous to see the kind of lack of attention that we need on our students,” she said.

What do you think of Harter’s job performance?

Posted on Saturday, October 11th, 2014
Under: Education, Walnut Creek School District | 5 Comments »

Mt. Diablo board candidates discuss lack of diversity in district staff

Six candidates vying for three open seats on the Mt. Diablo school board discussed a variety of issues at a forum Thursday in Pleasant Hill, including the lack of staff diversity in the district.

Incumbents Cheryl Hansen and Linda Mayo, along with challengers Michael Langley, Herbert Lee, Debra Mason and James Ryan shared a variety of perspectives on this issue, which Hansen said is a concern for most districts in Contra Costa County. Ideally, most candidates agreed, it is desirable for district staff to reflect the diversity of the student population.

“It’s a problem in communicating to students that education is a viable career,” said Hansen, who is white.

When she visited a career-oriented education academy at Ygnacio Valley High in Concord, Hansen said she was surprised that only two of 32 students said they wanted to pursue careers in education.

“A lot of it is that they don’t necessarily see it as a profession or a career or something that’s lucrative,” Hansen said. “You can’t just rely on love of students.”

Districts and the community must work to convince students that education is a meaningful and fulfilling field, Hansen said. She also suggested that districts such as Mt. Diablo could try to think out of the box when recruiting.

“Someone told me,” she said, “that you need to fish in different ponds.”

Langley said the head of the NAACP said several years ago that if you compare the number of African-American sports stars to the number of African-American dentists, you would find that there are many more dentists. But, students don’t know that.

“Kids see athletes as glorified and valued,” Langley said. “If you want to get people into education, you have to stop saying education is failing and is for losers. You have to say: ‘This is where you go to get the top job.’”

Langley said he also supports affirmative action in hiring.

“We have get a diverse workforce,” he said, adding in reference to himself, “said the old white man.”

Lee said he attended schools in Los Angeles, where the student population was 70 percent minorities.

“Most of the teachers were not people of color,” Lee said. “But I felt like it didn’t really matter. They had empathy and they understood where I came from. They cared about me. I think diversity is important, but it’s also important to understand how teachers relate to people and to get the kids to understand that there are people who care about you and they don’t necessarily have to look like you.”

Moderator John Sasaki, quipped: “Said the Asian man on the dais.

Mason, who is white, said she hired a very diverse staff in one of her Bay Point youth programs.

“The kids just thought they were ‘the bomb,’” Mason said. “I was told by a MDEA (Mt. Diablo Education Association teachers’ union) rep: ‘There’s no teachers of color out there.’ But I don’t believe that. I’ve been to other schools and I’ve seen them.”

One reason students from diverse ethnic backgrounds may not gravitate toward education careers is that they may not have had positive experiences in school, Mason added.

“If you had a negative experience in school, as many children of color do, is that a place you’re going to want to go back to? We have to value them,” she said. “In my program, four kids came back as teachers.”

Mayo, who is white, said teachers need to be esteemed in the district. Colleges, she added, must also reach out to diverse cultures for teacher credential and education programs.

“We also have to make sure that we as a community are welcoming people of color into our community,” she said, adding that diverse cities would likely attract more employees from varied backgrounds.

Ryan, who is white, said “students do better in school when they feel they have teachers who understand them.” He said the district should strive to make sure “students come up through an education system where they feel they belong and want to return to it.”

How do you think school districts could attract more diverse employees?

Posted on Friday, October 3rd, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 42 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school district could be held in contempt of court for failing to release court-ordered documents to Bay Area News Group

The Mt. Diablo school district could be held in contempt of court for refusing to turn over documents in connection with a lawsuit filed last year by this newspaper.

Last month, a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge ordered the district to release eight documents to this newspaper in response to a California Public Records Act request and subsequent lawsuit seeking all writings related to complaints, investigations or discipline of former Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin, who was charged last year with 150 counts of molestation involving 14 students.

A jury acquitted Martin in August on 21 counts involving three accusers and deadlocked on 95 other counts involving 11 accusers. The deputy district attorney dismissed 34 counts before jury deliberations began and has not yet decided whether to retry Martin on the remaining charges.

Martin was placed on a leave of absence in April 2013 after a parent complained to the principal about suspicions of inappropriate touching. Martin was arrested two months later and remains in jail in lieu of $10 million bail. Civil lawsuits filed by the accusers and their families against him and the district are pending.

In response to this newspaper’s lawsuit, a judge reviewed documents the district considered exempt from disclosure “in camera,” or in the judge’s chambers. Following this review, the judge ordered the district to produce the following eight documents, saying they were not exempt:

1. Phone message of May 22, 2013, for Julie Braun-Martin, then-assistant superintendent of personnel, from a parent.

2. Letter to Martin from a parent.

3. Email from Martin to Braun-Martin dated May 16, 2013.

4. Phone message of May 22, 2013, for Braun-Martin from parent.

5. Emails from then-Woodside Elementary Principal Jenny Cronan to Braun-Martin dated May 26 and 27, 2013.

6. Letter from Cronan to “Parents of H-I Students” dated May 28, 2013.

7. Phone message of June 7, 2013, for Braun-Martin from Cronan.

8. Email to “Board Members” from then-Interim Superintendent John Bernard dated June 28, 2013.

The district’s outside counsel from Meyers Nave filed a Motion to Reconsider, arguing that the documents were produced through an “improper” inspection in the judge’s chambers. They further argued that the documents are not public records by definition, that they are not responsive to this newspaper’s California Public Records Act request, that they are privileged attorney-client communications, are subject to attorney work product privilege, and they pertain to pending criminal and civil litigation. In addition, the district argued that disclosure would infringe on the privacy rights of families whose children attend Woodside Elementary in Concord, where Martin taught fifth grade.

The district included a declaration under perjury signed by Jayne Williams, who was the district’s interim general counsel when Martin was arrested, arguing that the documents should be exempt from disclosure because they were “retrieved solely from the general counsel’s legal files.”

Regarding Bernard’s email, Williams said: “I am informed, believe and thereon allege that email was sent on June 28, 2013, following the district meeting in closed session on June 24, 2013, to address these matters.”

She attached a copy of the agenda from the meeting, which she asserted “confirms the district’s meeting in closed session to discuss a matter related to a public employee.”

However, the minutes from that meeting — which she did not attach — state that no closed session took place because the public employee issue “has been resolved.” This newspaper asked the court to order the district to show cause why it should not be held in contempt of court for failure to obey the Aug. 14 order, and the judge agreed. Both the motion to reconsider and the contempt of court order are set for Oct. 15 hearings.

Staff writer Matthias Gafni contributed to this report.

Here is the district’s Motion to Reconsider: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcecFAxSk9jU0lYUGM/edit?usp=sharing

Here is Meyers Nave attorney Kevin Gilbert’s statement in support of the MDUSD motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceSTJWRU5US3V0Wkk/edit?usp=sharing

Here is former Interim General Counsel Jayne Williams’ declaration in support of the MDUSD motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceZlVDYTY4UEZjZTQ/edit?usp=sharing

Here’s BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause Why MDUSD Should Not Be Held In Contempt for Failure to Obey Aug. 14, 2014 Disclosure Order: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceekFrT0pOMTg4SmM/edit?usp=sharing

Do you think the district should turn over the documents or be held in contempt of court?

SEPT. 29 UPDATE: BANG filed this Petition for Writ today, which calls into question the actions of former Interim General Counsel Jayne Williams, who appears to have compiled certain documents in a “legal” file, while allowing all other copies of those documents to be discarded, in an apparent attempt to withhold them from release to BANG’s CPRA: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceWEFsWDYwNXhJZ2s/edit?usp=sharing

OCT. 1 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s Opposition to MDUSD’s Motion for Reconsideration: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcebWNNOXQ5M1l6YVk/view?usp=sharing

Here are Exhibits 1 and 2, which supplement BANG’s Opposition: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceVEZneFRCTGZlLVk/view?usp=sharing

OCT. 3 UPDATE: Here is MDUSD’s Request for a Temporary Stay of Disclosure Order and Opposition to BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceN2JwU09mR3RJdDg/view?usp=sharing

Here is Jayne Williams’ amended declaration: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcedTJqNjVCMURJRTQ/view?usp=sharing

Here is Kevin Gilbert’s Declaration in Support of MDUSD’s Request for Temporary Stay of Disclosure Order and Opposition to BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause why MDUSD Should Not Be Held in Contempt: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceYmhKR2J5dnI4OUE/view?usp=sharing

OCT. 7 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s Reply in Support of Order Holding MDUSD in Contempt for Failing to Obey the Aug. 14 Disclosure Order: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceQnhPVFRrbGNZbWM/view?usp=sharing

OCT. 27 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s motion for attorney’s fees: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceXzR1a3JwNGpaNWc/view?usp=sharing

And here is a declaration in support of the motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceQ1BHUFpmZ0RfM0k/view?usp=sharing

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 58 Comments »